Sharing lessons down under
A high-level TUC delegation, led by President Paul Kenny from the GMB and General Secretary Brendan Barber, is visiting our sister organisation in Australia, the ACTU. Over the next fortnight, we’ll be meeting union leaders in Sydney and Melbourne, Brendan will address the ACTU Executive, and we’ll be ‘speed dating’ with key Government Ministers, many of them ex-trade union leaders themselves.
There are huge opportunities for collaboration between the British and Australian union movements, sometimes obscured by the distances involved and, perversely, our traditional poms and Aussies relationship.
There is enough in common to make tactics and strategy transferable, as political parties have realised: a former No 10 spin doctor is advising Australia’s PM Julia Gillard, while Liberal attack dog Lynton Crosby ran Boris Johnson’s initial campaign for the London Mayoralty. Union links are less common although there are examples, especially in the global union movement, where the former ACTU President Sharan Burrow took over from ex-TUC official Guy Ryder as ITUC General Secretary.
We’re getting much better about exchanging ideas about strategy though. The phenomenally successful Your Rights at Work campaign ahead of the 2007 Australian election (which itself used the UK as an example of an industrial relations system – albeit one to avoid!) has been quarried for lessons for the TUC’s campaign for the alternative to austerity, and the ACTU’s current Howe enquiry into insecure work owes a lot to the TUC Commission on Vulnerable Employment. We regularly exchange ideas about organising, and some initial corporate campaigning has seen the TUC assisting the AWU over union rights in British Alcan.
So this fortnight provides an opportunity to develop solidarity work further, and usher in a new exchange of experiences and ideas.